I am reading this book at the moment;
I have heard people talk about it for years- it was written in 1988 after all, and became a publishing phenomenon in the early 90’s. At some point it arrived on one of our bookshelves, but I always avoided it because of some vague association in my mind with new age self fulfilment self help books.
However, different time of life and all, and different spiritual outlook, so in search of a book to read on the ferry that fitted easily in my pocket, I picked it up.
And I am really enjoying it.
Enjoying the writing and the story telling- which is ‘magical realism‘. A shepherd boy who meets a king who tells him his destiny, and he sets off on a journey in search of this destiny, along the way finding the depth of things – the Soul of the World.
But also enjoying the theological questions that it is bringing to me. In many ways the book proposes a spirituality that is a mash up of all sorts of influences- a bit of Jesus, a lot of Eastern mysticism, a lot more Coelho.
It suggests that each of us have a destiny, which we discover by listening to our hearts and following the omens and signs that the Soul of the World scatter in our way. Most do not dare to follow this destiny as it involves risk and pain, but when we do, the whole world conspires to deliver what we desire.
At first, there is what Coelho called ‘beginners luck’, we start out, and things fall in place. But the journey towards destiny always involves testing.
On the face of it this kind of simplistic magical thinking is the exact reason why the book has remained on the shelf for so long. It is too much like the prosperity gospel charlatans or the ‘success is yours if you go for it’ nonsense.
What rescues the book is its gentle thoughtfulness, and words like this;
We are afraid of losing what we have, whether it is our life or our possessions or our property. But this fear evaporates when we understand that our life stories and the history of the world were written by the same hand.
What has been occupying my mind is this question of fate. This post discussed some of the issues around vocation, and I suggested that I did not believe that God had a golden path planned out for us. In a reply to this, Paula suggested an alternative something like a flow chart with lots of different potential paths.
But as I think about the heart of the matter – the desires that in in the middle of us – I have to acknowledge the thought that we each carry unique individuality and creativity. The accident of our birth impedes or facilitates how this might shape our lives, but ultimately the degree to which this uniqueness is worked out is about the choices we make.
I wrote this line recently about God ‘twisting with our fate’. Mingling with us, laughing with us, prompting us, singing with us in success and holding us in failure.
Is this the same thing that Coelho is painting- the same fragments of the truth from the Soul of the World?
All I can say is that life is not for standing still, and movement has to have some direction, even if the way is indistinct and fraught with danger.